Sports

Jason Kidd’s Firing Will Reverberate Through The NBA For Years

The semi-shocking decision by Milwaukee to let their head coach go has opened up a brand new batch of meaningful questions, beginning with who the Bucks hire next.
January 22, 2018, 10:39pm
Photo by Mark D. Smith - USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks have fired Jason Kidd. Just like that, one of the NBA’s more divisive conversations has come to a close.

From the sideline, Kidd isn't viewed as a brilliant tactician. It seemed like every decision he made—some more mercurial than others—served as fuel for a growing contingent of ruthless Bucks supporters who blamed him for everything.

He installed a belligerent defensive system that needs continuity and length to work, but injuries to Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker robbed the Bucks of both those things. We’ll never know if more time and reps would’ve helped. The Bucks ranked 25th in defensive rating on the day Kidd was let go. They forced a bunch of turnovers but also fouled a ton, and were a total mess when Giannis Antetokounmpo hit the bench.

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Few will cry to see him go (though Giannis appears to be one, which isn’t a great look for Bucks management), and an even smaller segment of NBA observers had enough confidence in Kidd to believe he was right to lead Milwaukee's young core towards anything more than a plucky playoff appearance. That’s fine and totally fair. But to fire Kidd now, midway through a season in which a decent percentage of their struggle was out of his hands, feels unnecessary.

The Bucks aren’t great. They also aren't bad. They’re 6-9 in their last 15 games, a slide that can be partially attributed to a tough schedule, with losses against the Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat (currently the hottest team in basketball), and Philadelphia 76ers (their most recent defeat, which came without Antetokounmpo). That’s not meant to sound like an excuse, but even with a top-10 player onboard, Milwaukee’s most glaring flaws can be attributed more to roster construction than playing style or manipulation of a rotation.

The Bucks are the second-least accurate three-point shooting team above the break right now. They have two (two!) above-average outside shooters at their respective position who're currently healthy. The center spot is a mess, and playing Giannis at the five (which Kidd wasn’t afraid to do) rarely worked because of how small it’d make them elsewhere on the floor. Based on overall talent and how their pieces complement one another in today’s NBA, are they dramatically better than the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Heat, or 76ers? Giannis just turned 23. Their day is not today.

But Kidd wasn’t fired because he benched Tony Snell. There are reasons that extend beyond his odd lineup combinations and ostensibly broken defensive philosophy that explain his exit. Now that he’s gone, those reasons are officially irrelevant. What matters is who the Bucks hire to replace him.

Antetokounmpo will be on an expiring contract two years from now. That seems like forever away, but to misfire on another coaching hire could be a crippling blow. This is a big deal, and any coach currently looking for work will jump at the opportunity to lead a blooming force of nature.

Do the Bucks give someone with high upside but no NBA experience a shot (a la Brad Stevens) or target a more notable name that’s been around the league for years? David Fizdale is a popular free agent. Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale, and Jeff Van Gundy should desire an interview. Do they wait and see if any other well-respected coaches get the ax, like, say, Terry Stotts?

And how will whoever takes over change the defensive principles Kidd adored? Will Milwaukee switch everything? Will they dial it back and be more conservative on a full-time basis? How will Antetokounmpo be used differently than he is now? Kidd’s firing creates a flurry of exciting questions, but no matter who the Bucks ultimately choose—whether they improve, slip, or sustain inconsistent play over the next year or two—it’ll impact the rest of the league in a meaningful way for a very long time.